A Blessing in a Different Package

In case you are not a regular reader, I will share with you that our 13 year son, Joshua, has Down’s syndrome. A friend of ours approached me a few weeks ago telling me that he was asked to pray with a family whose newborn child also had been given this diagnosis. He mentioned that some of the others present were praying “against the curse of Down syndrome.” He confided to me that he was unable to pray that way because he did not see the diagnosis in such a negative light. Having been a part of a special needs ministry, he commented that the participants in that program had a unique connection with God.

My response when I heard this was sadness for the baby and the family. I do not feel Joshua is plagued by the curse of Down syndrome or that his condition was a triumph of our Adversary. Joshua is a divine gift for our family for reasons only God understands, yet I do know having Josh has taught us about God’s abundant and unfailing love for his children. Joshua’s presence in our lives has given us a depth of compassion for hurting people that we as a family would not have gained parenting four typical children. Joshua reminds us that our value does not rest on our performance.

Katherine Wolf, who survived a stroke and wrote about her journey expressed an idea in Hope Heals that resonates with my journey.

I have learned to do many things well – to wait well, to suffer well, to cope well, to persevere well, and even to lose well. Our culture tells us to be beautiful, to avoid pain and be happy. What if everything important in our lives is actually the opposite?

The things the enemy intends to devastate and cause despair, God transforms into uniquely designed opportunities for sanctification. The diagnosis or circumstance that someone perceives as a curse may become a window into the heart of God.

Breakthrough

Our worship team sings a currently popular song* which includes these lyrics

I know breakthrough is coming
By faith I see a miracle
My God made me a promise and He won’t stop now

Imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon an interesting reference in 1 Chronicles 14:11. David defeated the Philistines saying, “God has broken through my enemies at my hand like the breakthrough of waters.” They named the place Baal-perazim meaning “Lord of Breakthrough.”

Over the years, I have studied the names of God many times, but had never come across this name spoken of God after this victory. I was curious about the word perazim and wanted to find other usages. Just a few verses earlier, it is found in verse 11 of chapter 13. However, this time the context is not favorable. When Uzza touches the Ark of the Covenant to keep it from falling off the cart, the Lord’s anger breaks through and Uzza dies.

The same glory and majesty of God that accomplishes the impossible victory or performs a miracle also breaks forth in judgment.

Contrary to what I first supposed, the idea of a breakthrough coming is biblical. However, the Lord of the Breakthrough may not manifest Himself as the song describes when all will be made right for me. He may breakthrough in correction and refining.

Even so, when we sing the song, I imagine the breakthrough coming described in Revelation 1:7 Behold! He is coming with the clouds and every eye will see him, even those who pierced Him.

He promised to His own that is He is coming back to gather us to Him. May we remain faithful and stand firmly until He returns.

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*Won’t Stop Now by Elevation Worship


			

Do You Love Me?

Last week, my Facetime group finished studying the life of Jesus. We read about the disciples sleeping when Jesus deeply desired for them to be with Him, fleeing during His arrest, and conspicuously absent (except for John) at His crucifixion.

Peter denied Jesus 3 times. Peter failed Jesus-big time! For the most part, I do not identify with Peter because he is outspoken and seems to enjoy being in the middle of things. However, this aspect -disappointing Jesus- to that I can relate. I have slept when I should have been praying. I have I have retreated when I should have taken a stand. I have allowed my feelings to dictate my actions instead of faith.

I wonder what the encounter was like after Jesus rose from death and appeared to the disciples. The last thing they did was abandon him during his most difficult hours.  We don’t know all that was said or what transpired between that meeting and the next occasion when the disciples had returned to fishing. However, once Peter recognized him on the shore, he didn’t hesitate but took off his outer garment and threw himself into the sea in his eagerness reach Jesus.

Peter denied Jesus 3 times, yet when they met again, Jesus did not ask Peter to confess his sin but to confess his love. In John 21, Jesus questioned Peter 3 times, “Do you love me?” Every time Peter adamantly affirmed his love for Jesus. Each time, Jesus instructed Peter to watch over and tend his sheep. Peter wasn’t chastised or dismissed. He was given the very role Jesus embodied – shepherding.

The shepherd became the sacrifice. Because of his love for his sheep, Jesus, our shepherd laid down his life for us.

Peter would ultimately give up his life because of his love for Jesus. After Peter failed, he didn’t give up and go home, he jumped in and served with the strength the Lord gave him until his very last breath.

When our love of Jesus is foremost, our life is focused properly. We won’t live looking back to all the ways we have failed to measure up but in the new grace He lavishes on us each new day.

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

Sons of Issachar

In 1 Chronicles 12:32, there is a single reference to a group of men, the sons of Issachar, who both understood the times in which they lived and possessed knowledge of what they should do.

We desperately need people like these sons of Issachar who understand our times and are able to apply Biblical wisdom to life today. There is an urgent need for discerning individuals to recognize what the body of Christ should be doing during these challenging days. I desire to be like these men, and I want this for you, too!

 4 keys to understanding our times

  1. To intimately know Jesus who (no matter what times we are living in) is the same yesterday today and forever. Daniel 11:32b states that those who know their God will be strong and perform mighty deeds.
  • Growing Faith – In Isaiah 7:9, Isaiah tells the king, “If you do not believe, you surely shall not last.” We must trust God to complete the things His word declares He will accomplish.
  • Continual immersion in His word – His word is truth and life. The more we meditate on His words and put his words into practice, the stronger our roots grow anchoring us to His firm foundation.
  • Fellowship – Discussing the Bible and our spiritual walks with other believers allows us to perceive a more complete picture than we can grasp on our own.

Each week, the future seems fraught with more unknowns, seemingly spiraling out of control. The only security we have is to trust the One who is omniscient and sovereign. Unless we fully understand who we are and what we have been given through Christ, we will be ill-prepared to meet life’s pressures without compromising or emotionally crumbling.

Ask and it shall be given to you. Today, I humbly beseech you, Lord, to cause us to stand firmly upon your truth; for us to be kept from compromise and from the enemy’s deceptions; for us to shine brightly in the darkness and give understanding to others.

Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven and those who lead the many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever. Daniel 12:3

Enduring Suffering

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I tend to avoid the book of Job even though at times I readily identify with his struggles and questions. While it seems few will experience the magnitude of loss that Job experienced, most of us have asked God why or questioned the Lord’s purposes in the midst of suffering and devastation.

I can’t understand why the Adversary is given so much leeway to bring destruction in the life of one of God’s dearly beloved children. Satan’s MO has always been to kill steal and destroy, yet he cannot act without God’s permission. He must stay within the limits God sets. The book of Job clearly reveals God’s sovereignty.

Although Job lost his 10 children and every possession, he never lost the favor of God. Job did not displease God. However, until the end of the book, God remains silent. Over the years, I have found my struggles are intensified when God hides his face and his voice isn’t heard.

After reading, I have so many questions and very few conclusions. I am still unsure how to help those who are hurting. However, here are a few observations many of which are based on what Job’s friends did wrong.

Wealth is not a protection from tragedy.

Avoid temptation to judge a person experiencing misfortune suggesting it was something they did.

When someone is suffering greatly, words may not penetrate the shroud of grief. Listening is far more valuable than advice or parroting platitudes.

In Job Chapter 1-2, God said that Job was blameless, upright, feared God, turned from evil and held fast to his integrity. In Chapters 7,9, and 10 Job experiences anguish of spirit, bitterness of soul, emptiness, futility, loathes his life and wishes he had never been born.  Having these feelings was the result of intense suffering not a lack of faith. Note to self: Don’t beat myself up if I have these feelings seemingly contrary to how the church portrays a victorious faith-filled believer.

God’s ways are so far above our comprehension that we cannot perceive all God is doing in the heavenly places.

Finally, in Chapter 38, God answered Job. Instead of explaining why all of this has happened, God questions Job. Was Job there when God laid the foundation of the earth? The Lord asks Job if he ever commanded the morning or does he know when a mountain goat gives birth? Can Job send forth lightning or has he entered the storehouses of snow? I counted 60! questions that the Lord asked Job, and Job did not have the wisdom or power to accomplish even one of the mighty feats of God.

God’s anger burned against Job’s friends because they had not spoken what was right about God. God, however, was not angry with Job’s questions in the midst of pain. The Lord wanted Job to acknowledge His unfathomable greatness. Job repented recognizing God’s ways were too wonderful for him to understand and no purpose of His can be thwarted. 

In the final chapter, God restored the fortunes of Job.  Whether here or in eternity, the Lord will restore everything the adversary or this fallen world has taken from us.

Even though my trials pale in comparison, I desire the faith that Job proclaimed in 13:15, “Even though He slay me, I will trust him.”  Similarly, I long for the result Job anticipated in 23:10, “When He has tried me, I will come out as gold.”  Until my faith becomes sight, my best response when questions overshadow what I understand is to Be Still and Know He is God.

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Title or Towel?

In a wonderfully God- orchestrated series of events, I visited New Community Church. The short version is that on the way home from a wedding, Mike and I stopped to eat at a restaurant where I left my credit card. When I finally tracked down the lost card, I noticed the restaurant was less than a mile from New Community Church.

The reason New Community Church is special to me is because exactly a year ago, our 2 friends took a leap of faith and left our church to plant this church. As a result of the stressful event of losing the card, God allowed me to see His grace at work in this new community of believers. Adding to my blessing and excitement, I learned New Community is planting another church.

The sermon series was a call to be ALL IN as we follow Jesus, The message asserted that radical followers of Jesus radically serve. Whoever would be great among you must be your servant -Mark 10:43. In the eyes of God, greatness is not designated by a title but by a towel.

Jesus has some pretty amazing titles – Son of God, Messiah, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, yet he performed the lowliest of tasks – washing feet. The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many -Mark 10:45.

Unfortunately, even churches seem to focus on titles and talent. (Small group leader, coach, worship team, director, coordinator- to name only a few). It’s easy to find our identity in those things but doing that may deter us from the greatness the Lord has for us in learning to serve with the love of Jesus not only our friends but the ones who will flee or betray.  

Lord, how can I serve more like you?

Here I am

Hineni. This Hebrew word is usually translated, “Here I am.” Abraham responded to God in this way as did Moses, Samuel and Isaiah long before the Lord began to accomplish mighty works through their lives.  Interestingly, we also find the widow in 1 Kings 17:12 uttering this phrase to Elijah when she brings her last bit of flour to the prophet with very little hope having enough to sustain her even until the next day. Here I am.

Hineni (hee-nay-nee) differs from po ani. The later also means I am here, but the former implies not only I am present, but I am listening, and I am willing to do whatever you reveal next. I will engage with everything I am.

On Thursday, the Jewish people celebrate Yom Kippur- which we translate “Day of Atonement” – the most holy day of their year. I learned when the rabbi prays at beginning of both the feasts, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah (the feast of Trumpets celebrated earlier this month), he utters the word “Hineni.

Hineni can be a response to our Lord’s calling to action or Hineni can be an invitation for Him to reveal of transgressions. Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my thoughts; and see if there is any hurtful way in me and lead me in the everlasting way. Psalm 139:23-24

When I come before the Lord, is it with an attitude of po ani or with the posture of hineni?

Here I am Lord. With everything I am, I am yours.

Lost in Church

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I was participating in a Zoom Bible study with people I had never met. One of the participants shockingly stated, “The church pews are one of the most fertile mission fields.”

A lot of people in church don’t actually know Jesus.

There are 2 ways to be lost. We can be lost in obvious rebellion from God, or we can be lost in our own self-righteousness thinking we are “good enough” and therefore not mindful of our desperate need of God’s mercy. Jesus made use of at least two parables which demonstrated this.

The first is of a Pharisee and a tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) which Jesus told to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous yet viewed others with contempt. When the Pharisee entered the temple to pray, he recounted his good deeds before God while the tax collector pleaded, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” Jesus tells his audience that the tax collector who humbled himself was right with God, not the one trusting that his position and good works made him acceptable to God.

Even more well known, is the parable of the prodigal son found in Luke 15:11-32. By requesting his inheritance and leaving home, the younger son clearly dishonored his father and wasted the blessings his father had bestowed upon him, but what about the older bother? He lived day after day in his father’s household, but he did not emulate the character of his father. Instead of feeling joy when his brother returned home, he was angry that the prodigal was being celebrated rather than chastised. He did not share his father’s generous heart. He too failed to treasure the blessings his father had generously bestowed on him believing he was worthy and deserving of his inheritance.

In the days of King Josiah, the priest, Hilkiah, found the Book of the Law hidden inside the house of God. This seems unimaginable that the words God had given Moses to record were somehow buried underneath other things and forgotten. Even so, I wonder if a similar circumstance has occurred today. The words of the Bible are buried underneath and crowded out by other sources of wisdom such as books written by spiritual men and women of our day, knowledge found in the theories of scientists, or the alarming circumstances broadcast by journalists.

Jesus gives us a stern warning in Matthew 7:21,24, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter…. everyone who hears my words and acts upon them may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

Our previous pastor often said, “You can miss heaven by 12 inches.” The distance between our head and our heart is about a foot. We may sit in church hearing truth and learning more, yet a true disciple daily puts the words of Jesus into practice and continually seeks to be molded into the character of our Heavenly Father.

Dot-To -Dot

When I was a young child, I remember being given a sheet of paper with numbered dots. I would draw a line from the smallest number to the next larger number continuing until I ended up with an outline of a picture. Sometimes, I feel like one of those disconnected dots. I rarely see how anything in my daily life connects to God’s greater purposes. Although I often cannot comprehend it, that does not mean there is not a bigger picture.

Our lives are similar to pieces of tile in the mosaic. God places us together to tell His story.  The red tile above is from the center of the flower which by itself is merely a broken, red tile but placed alongside the other tiles, an image becomes clear. As an introvert, I thrive in my time alone, yet too much solitary time prevents me from experiencing how my little piece, while small, interconnects to others. When I spend time with God’s children- hearing their stories and observing their spiritual gifts, I appreciate how each individual piece, including my own,  is a significant part of God’s intricate design.

God knows the picture He is creating, and that is what matters. Even when I am unable to recognize my purpose, Our Almighty and Sovereign Lord continues to fulfill His. We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. All of this is for your benefit. As God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. 2 Corinthians 4:14-15

“It is with the smallest brushes that the artist paints the most exquisitely beautiful pictures.”– St. André Bessette

3:16

For God so loved the world that He gave his only son that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life.

You have probably memorized the 16th verse of the 3rd chapter of John. Interestingly, there are many other significant 3:16 passages. Enjoy 😊

Luke 3:16 – John answered, “I baptize you with water, but He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of who sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

1 Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you?

Ephesians 3:16-17 May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith – that you being rooted and grounded in love may have strength to comprehend with all the saints the depth and breadth and height of the love of Christ

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell in you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

2 Timothy 3:16 -17 All scripture is breathed by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Thessalonians 3:16 Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all!

1 John 3:16 We know love by this, that He laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our life for our brethren.